Bars and clubs in Zanzibar Town
The number of bars in Zanzibar Town grows steadily each year as visitors continue to come in ever-increasing numbers. Some bars cater almost exclusively to tourists, others mainly to local Tanzanians who have migrated to Zanzibar from the mainland, as indigenous Zanzibaris are generally Muslim and so don't drink. Usually available are Tanzanian, Kenyan, South African and international beers and soft drinks, plus local and imported spirits. Wines are mostly South African. Many of the larger hotels have separate bars, open to non-guests, and many of the restaurants and cafés mentioned in the section above also serve drinks.
Africa House Hotel
No visit to Zanzibar is complete without a visit to the terrace bar at the Africa House Hotel, where people have been meeting up for drinks at sunset since colonial days. You can order snacks and meals (US$2–5) to enjoy on the terrace, and a smarter inside restaurant is promised. Especially popular among locals and the more adventurous visitors are the traditional pipes (also known as hubble-bubble pipes, water pipes or, correctly, shisha pipes).
Mizingani Rd. As well as the Africa House Hotel, Mercury's is also good for sundowners, and serves drinks and food all day and long into the evening. This place is noted for its happy hour – out of high season running generously from 17.00 to 20.00 – and its excellent range of cocktails. Shisha pipes are also available (and popular). If you're here for the scenery more than the beer, in the May–Sep period the angle of the sun means the sunsets are easier to appreciate at Mercury's than at the Africa House (which is better Oct–Apr).
Next to the Africa House Hotel, this joint has a very strong local flavour, which lurches dangerously towards the dire and disreputable. Frequented mainly by off-duty hookers and tour touts rapidly spending their illgotten gains, the attached New Happy Lodge seems to cater for the same clientele, and is best avoided.
There is a disco most nights at the dire Bwawani Hotel, in a dark and equally seedy room under the swimming pool. Weekends are the most popular, entry is US$1.25 and evenings don't usually warm up until about midnight. If this hotel is renovated, the disco might also get a lick of paint and some decent furniture too, but don't hold your breath. Or rather, do, if you visit the loos!
Almost opposite the Starehe (below) is the vastly different Garage Club, a fully air-conditioned and (fortunately) fully soundproofed disco. Here, the music is a loud, eclectic mix of house, hip-hop, reggae, and African and European pop. You can't miss this place – with outside walls painted in black-and-white zebra stripes. Entry is US$2, although often free for women. It rocks till dawn at weekends.
Just 50m down Shangani Rd from the Tembo Hotel, the Starehe is a low-key and peaceful place with a terrace overlooking the bay. The staff are friendly and the beer (reasonably priced) is nearly always cold. Don't be put off by the wire mesh between the customers, the barman and the sea, nor by the souvenir stall at the entrance. This is the sort of place where you'll almost certainly end up chatting with the locals – and we don't mean fishermen! This place is due for renovation soon which might alter things, as a restaurant, ice cream parlour and marine sports centre are planned.